HAIFA, Israel — Help streamed in from across the world Friday to help Israel battle a forest fire that's already killed at least 42 people and ranks among the nation's worst natural disasters.
Firefighters and equipment from the U.S. are expected to arrive Saturday, joining teams from 16 countries that have already sent airplanes, helicopters, supplies and fire fighters to battle the blaze, which began Thursday and spread so quickly that it overtook a bus carrying prison guards, killing dozens in a flash of flame.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the international help "an unprecedented response to our request" and thanked the international community for standing "shoulder to shoulder" with Israel.
The fire burned fiercely Friday, sending up smoke that could be seen throughout northern Israel. Many stopped their cars along the coastal highway to watch as clouds of gray smoke hung ominously over the city of Haifa.
Yael Branovsky, a 24-year-old Haifa resident, said that her parents had fled their home voluntarily, but that many others had to be dragged out.
"A lot of us stayed here during the wars with Lebanon and through everything else. Now we have to abandon our homes because of a fire? It's hard to accept," she said. "Still, we don't want to see any more tragedies."
As she spoke, a fire-fighting plane with a Greek flag flew overhead. A small group of people gathered near the highway cheered, and yelled "Go, go, Zeus!" at the aircraft.
Many Israelis said they're still shocked by the bus tragedy, which happened during the first hours of the inferno. According to rescue workers, the bus, carrying trainee prison guards to help evacuate a low-security jail, was caught by flames traveling 100 mph down a hillside. None of them could escape.
The fire, ignited by unseasonably high temperatures, strong winds and tinder-dry conditions left by the worst drought in Israeli history, already has scorched more than 7,000 acres and shows no signs of slackening. Israeli fire chief Shimon Romach said it could take days to stop the blaze.
"We are far from bringing it under control," he said.
(Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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